Web

Mr. Internet goes to Washington: How Web lobbying affects you

congress internet lobby groupIn a sure sign that the Internet industry is growing up, two new Internet-centric, Washington lobbying groups have launched in the past month alone. This means more money, expertise, and other resources will be funneled toward the goal of making Internet-related issues important in Congress. 

First up, we have the Internet Infrastructure Coalition (i2Coalition), a consortium of companies “who build the nuts and bolts of the Internet,” as the group describes itself. Next, The Internet Association — an interest group powerhouse fueled by a list of Internet titans that includes Google, Amazon, Facebook, Yahoo, and eBay, among others.

So Internet businesses are rallying together to have a concerted voice in Washington. But what does that mean for you and me, the people who use and rely upon the Internet every day? Let’s take a closer look at who these groups are, what they aim to accomplish, and what their actions could mean for the future of the Web.

i2coalition

i2Coalition

Leadership: Co-founder and Chairman Christian Dawson, COO of ServInt

Members: Officially launched on September 17, the i2Coalition is currently made up of 42 infrastructure-related companies — the companies that own and operate the more technical side of the Internet, like data centers, cloud computing companies, and domain registrars. This includes companies like cPanel, Rackspace, Softlayer, and Endurance International Group. At the moment, the companies involved in i2Coalition are lesser-known, at least when compared to companies like AT&T or Verizon, both of which fall into the Internet infrastructure category.

See the full list of members here.

Goal: To better educate lawmakers about the workings of the Internet, and push for policies that “encourage the growth and development of the Internet infrastructure industry,” according to the official policy statement. Specifically, i2Coalition will push back against further government regulation, fight taxes related to Internet activity, and promote awareness of Internet issues in the media.

It will also fight against “any new laws…related to Internet copyright and/or intellectual property protection” that might erode current “safe harbor” provisions for Internet companies. And it will “opposes legislation enabling law enforcement organizations to search, seize or otherwise interrupt communication without Court-approval and probable cause or in a manner inconsistent with the U.S. Constitution.”

The group maintains that human rights like “freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and the protection of personal privacy,” are “essential” to “Internet advancement” and the preservation of “a free and open Internet.”

Read i2Coalition’s full policy statement here.

Internet-Association

The Internet Association

Leadership: President and CEO Michael Beckerman, former Deputy Staff Director for the House Energy and Commerce Committee

Members: While we’ve known about The Internet Association since the end of July, the group didn’t officially launch until September 19. Unlike the i2Coaltion, members of The Internet Association couldn’t be more high-profile. The 14 members companies are: Amazon.com, AOL, eBay, Expedia, Facebook, Google, IAC, LinkedIn, Monster Worldwide, Rackspace, Salesforce, TripAdvisor, Yahoo, and Zynga.

Goal: According to The Internet Association’s mission statement (PDF), the group seeks to “protect and preserve the free, innovative, and decentralized architecture of the Internet.” This objective is broken into three parts:

  • Protecting Internet freedom: From government censorship, interference, taxes, regulation, and other controls.
  • Fostering innovation and growth: By maintaining the “low-to-nonexistent barriers to entry” for Internet-reliant small businesses.
  • Empowering users: By supporting policies that allow users to take full advantage of innovations, like cloud computing and storage, as well as supporting a diverse range of business models employed by Internet companies (think user-generated content on Twitter, Facebook, or Reddit).

Common causes

Leslie Harris CDT

To sum up, the purpose of i2Coalition and The Internet Association is to promote policies that are good for the various businesses interests they represent. And both groups have pointed out the involvement of their members in the fight against SOPA and PIPA. But as we have seen with other industries, what’s good for business is not always good for consumers. So will the Internet’s new lobbying bodies fight for you, or just for their stock holders and bottom lines?

To answer this question, I reached out to Leslie Harris, president and CEO of the Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT), a key organization in the fight for Internet freedom that focuses on the rights of Web users. According to Harris, the efforts of these groups should help Web users in a number of important ways.

Jobs

The i2Coalition cites estimates from Tier1 Research that the U.S. Internet infrastructure industry generated $46 billion in direct and indirect revenue in 2010, with an expected growth of 20 percent by 2013. Further, The Internet Association’s Beckerman says that Internet businesses contributed “a full 15 percent of U.S. GDP growth in the past five years.” These groups will both push to boost these numbers even higher through beneficial legislation — something Harris believes will help create jobs around the U.S.

“I think there’s going to be a strong focus in a very traditional political way on educating Members about how the Internet provides economic value in individual districts,” says Harris. “There’s this view, somehow, that [Internet jobs are only] in Silicon Valley. I think the average Member sees it as separate from their own constituency, rather than understanding the percentage of their constituents that may in fact run businesses off the Internet.”

Smarter policy, open Internet

Second, says Harris, we will likely see fewer bills come out of Washington that fail to take into consideration the technical workings of the Internet and the Web.

“Hopefully, this will raise the level of awareness about how the Internet actually works among policy makers [in Washington, D.C.],” says Harris. “If that is the case, you will see fewer SOPAs, and more nuanced policy which does not pose a threat to the Internet itself and to users.”

“I believe that The Internet Association is really going to be focused on Internet openness and freedom,” adds Harris. “So, in some ways, they are going to be delivering a message about the importance of keeping the Internet open, the importance of looking at policies through the freedoms of users. And in that regard, they could have a very important impact on the everyday users of the Internet.”

Better services

In addition to the creation jobs, i2Coalition’s Dawson says that his organization will also help deliver better Internet service all around, including faster service that reaches more Americans, especially those in rural areas.

“The average Web user may not understand the ‘nuts and bolts’ that go into bringing them their websites on a daily basis — they just want them to be fast, reliable and always available,” Dawson told me in an email. “Our formation will help ensure that a Web user’s Internet experience keeps getting better, safer, and more open.”

Discord

As good as this sounds, there will almost certainly be areas where business and user interests divide. According to Harris, issues like user privacy, and certain consumer protections will likely be areas of contention. However, says Harris, “I do think that there are a lot of issues where what’s good for Internet users is good for Internet companies. And on those issues, you’ll see common cause.”

“There have been lots of other loud voices, whether they are copyright voices or children’s safety voices, lots that have valid interests,” she adds. “But this will be the first time where corporate interests share the kinds of values that organizations like mine work towards.”

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